In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild-flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's bosom; dancing up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been to cover her bosom with her clasped hands. But, whether from pride or resignation
, or a feeling that her penance
might best be wrought out by this unutterable
pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat erect
, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild eyes. Still came the battery
of flowers, almost invariably hitting the mark, and covering the mother's breast with hurts for which she could find no balm
in this world, nor knew how to seek it in another. At last, her shot being all expended, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little laughing image of a fiend peeping out- or, whether it peeped or no, her mother so imagined it- from the unsearchable abyss
of her black eyes.
"Child, what art thou?" cried the mother.
"Oh, I am your little Pearl!" answered the child.
But, while she said it, Pearl laughed, and began to dance up and down, with the humorsome gesticulation
of a little imp, whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney
"Art thou my child, in very truth?" asked Hester.
Nor did she put the question altogether idly
, but, for the moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was Pearl's wonderful intelligence, that her mother half doubted whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her existence, and might not now reveal herself.
"Yes; I am little Pearl!" repeated the child, continuing her antics
"Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!" said the mother, half playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive impulse came over her, in the midst of her deepest suffering. "Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither?"